John Campbell

Africa in Transition

Campbell tracks political and security developments across sub-Saharan Africa.

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South Africa’s Economic Freedom Fighters Making a Splash

by John Campbell
August 5, 2014

Members of Julius Malema's Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) party demonstrate outside Parliament in Cape Town, June 20, 2014 (Mike Hutchings/Courtesy Reuters).


Julius Malema’s political party, the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), won about 6 percent of the vote in the South Africa’s March national elections. This makes it South Africa’s third largest party, though it remains significantly behind the governing African National Congress (ANC), which won 62 percent of the vote, and the official opposition, the Democratic Alliance, which won 22 percent.

Malema is a perennial bad-boy, though he is only thirty-three years of age. A former head of the ANC Youth League, he was finally expelled from the party because of his refusal to accept party discipline. He then founded the EFF, which is only one year old. His rhetoric is radical, “socialist,” and anti-white. He calls for, among other things, the expropriation of the mines and of all white-owned land—without compensation. He publicly praises Zimbabwe’s strongman president, Robert Mugabe, who expropriated without compensation white-owned property and destroyed the economy of his country for many years. Since entering parliamentary politics, the EFF has followed an unconventional style—its operatives wear a red paramilitary uniform.

Reactions against the EFF have been strongest from the ANC and its Tripartite Alliance partners, the South African Communist Party (SACP) and the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU). The SACP was the first to publically draw a parallel between the EFF and the rise of the Nazi party under Adolf Hitler. This theme was further developed by ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe in July when he delivered the Mandela Legacy Memorial lecture. He said that Malema was a “Hitler in the making.”

EFF radicalism strikes a nerve within the ANC. The EFF is presenting itself as the voice of dispossessed and radicalized township dwellers. The ANC has never been a left-wing party. There has been a void on the left in South African politics, which the EFF has moved to fill.

Young and undisciplined, it remains to be seen whether the EFF will be able to deliver tangible benefits for its constituents. As of now, the outlook is not promising. Meanwhile, the Metal Workers Union, a powerful and wealthy trade union, is considering launching a left-wing political party to contest the 2019 national elections. It is likely to be well-funded and can call on veteran leadership. With such competition for left-wing votes, the EFF may not last long.

Post a Comment 2 Comments

  • Posted by Batanai

    Point of correction John, the EFF wears nanny and mining workers clothing (red coveralls, aprons and berets), NOT Paramilitary Uniforms as you wrongly project them.

    Your point on delivering to their constituents is not very clear. The EFF does NOT control a single provincial government to rule, I do not know how they can be expected to deliver on their policies when they have no governmental control?
    However, as an opposition party, they seem to be doing extremely well; so far completely overshadowing the main opposition, the DA, and reducing the ANC to panicked and mesmerized stance!
    Even the mainstream SA media has been moved to now put EFF policies as agenda drivers rather than ANC policies.

    You are right that the youthfulness of the party makes it difficult to predict it’s political lifespan. I doubt however than the workers’ party from NUMSA will do much to undermine EFF.
    NUMSA appears to be a threat to ANC rather than EFF. It’s access to money does not guarantee it overshadows an EFF that does not seem to need much money to remain relevant and agenda-setting.

    Already, NUMSA does not seem to have done as much as the EFF-aligned union that extracted major concessions from the mining behemoths. It’s doubtful that NUMSA can extend its base beyond its 200 000 members, a 1/5 of EFF’s last parliamentary votes.

  • Posted by CBK

    Malema should hold to the mining expropriation policy and ditch the uncompensated seizure of all white land. The latter prong would be a recipe, in the South African context, for social rupture and international isolation (which the Imperialist goons will already be ready to do with mine expropriation, but will have to work behind the scenes, buying the government time).

    Mugabe’s downfall was precipitated by his poor decisions on trade and monetary policy, not by his expropriations. Actions against the central bank of Zimbabwe did not help.

    The only problem with “hasty” industrial expropriations of the type that are likely to occur under an EFF type administration, is the rush to use expropriated monies on anything other than what they should be used on: real capital development; production-to-market capacity increasing infrastructure; STRATEGIC human capital investments; small and mid sized private worker cooperative creation of a sound quality. These primary uses could create a strong virtuous cycle that could then provide (or even party obviate) the revenues for immediate needs like human service upgrades, price subsidies and welfare disbursements. A smart expropriation plan could be the best and fastest ticket to a small enterprise wealth revolution for South Africa’s poorest…and a neglect should not be made of the agricultural sector and the need for botique and regional farming needs. However, this kind of saavy capacity building and organic, sustainable demand generation is unfortunately not likely to be pursued by a government with the gumption and appetite for industrial expropriation. But it COULD happen. Let us not loose hope of the best visions due to cynicism for sloppy advocates of their cheaper versions.

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